July 29, 2002 – Promiscuity, youth violence and college options were some of the issues discussed at the 2002 Teen Summit held on the St. Croix campus of the University of the Virgin Islands over the weekend.
One hundred students ages 12 through 18 engaged in open discussions, networking, socializing and self-discovery at the annual activity hosted by the St. Croix Drug Demand Reduction Unity Coalition. About 30 adults — caregivers and support staff — provided leadership and support for the weekend of molding, bonding and enrichment.
In breakout sessions, the young people expressed their interests and ideas and learned positive ways to solve problems and creative ways to approach daily life and make a positive impact on the world around them.
On Friday night, the 13-member Solutions Improvisation Teen Theater Troupe, directed by Rodney Gilmore, staged short scenes, graphic and profound, reflecting life as young people experience it. The audience was spellbound.
"My mother does buy me everything I want, jewelry … but where is the love?" one actress said.
There was a scene about a love triangle involving female best friends and their parting of ways after the boyfriend of one was entertaining the other. After a long argument, one friend shot the other in the back. "Was it worth it?" the narrator asked the audience afterward. She advised the group to "take care of each other, love each other. Everyone be at peace."
Muriel Herbert, the mother of one theater group member, decided to hang around Friday night to get a feel for the weekend program. "It touched me," she said of the theater performance. "If it touched me the way I felt tonight, I hope others received the message." Her child attended last year's summit.
It was a group of diverse racial, ethnic and national makeup; children from single-parent households, military dependents and residents of juvenile group homes; students at public, parochial and private schools. They blended as a group on a mission of self-discovery, asking questions, testing limits and having a great time in the process.
Clint Ferris, student activities supervisor, advised the young people to seek higher education, at least trying a junior college. "We are not all there is to life. There are other people with other lifestyles," he said. "You will learn to look beyond and appreciate people for who they are."
Speakers included Shelly Jaggernauth from VICARE, Clema Lewis from the Women's Coalition of St. Croix, Territorial Court Judge Darryl Donahue, Dr. Sheryl Wade and Cy Levine from the Education Department.
For Sunday's general session, Gene Emanuel, humanities faculty member on the UVI St. Thomas campus, led a discussion on cultural diversity. He quizzed the teens on their knowledge and talked about the role that one's origins and roots play in spiritual development.
"He said it does not just begin with our parents," said Shamalla Simmonds, a second-year teen mentor with the program who soon will head off to her first year of college in South Carolina. "He explained it in depth because a lot of them were unfamiliar with cultural diversity," she said.
Jahmalie Henry, who'll be a sophomore at Educational Complex this fall, said he decided to take part in the summit based on the recommendation of a friend who was a mentor. The program was interesting, Jahmalie said, and "I'd love to come again. It was a lot of fun."
Although some complained about the midnight curfew, constant supervision by caregivers and lights on during a dance on Saturday night, most participants enjoyed the overall program.
Jermaine Hanley, a senior and second-year participant said he was excited about leaving the island after his graduation. Shamalla reminded him that it is important to "give back to your community that helped you."
The coalition of agencies supporting the summit were the Housing Authority Police; the Housing Parks and Recreation, Human Services, Justice and Health Departments; Weed and Seed, The Village, Toyota of St. Croix, and the V.I. National Guard Counter Drug Task Force.
Next year the coalition hopes to accept more students, if funding permits. This year it received funding for 75 teens but with public support was able to accept 100 — while having to turn about 40 more away. The weekend's estimated cost per teen is $150.
At the closing ceremony on Sunday, Annette Williams Jacobs thanked parents for allowing their youngsters to experience the Unity program and invited them to be a part of the coalition's youth activities throughout the school year. Unity hosts monthly teen workshops on various topics, some requiring parental participation.
"We are preparing our teens for life," Jacobs said in thanking the sponsoring entities. "We are trying to give you a product that you can work with. Our goal is to help them think and live as productive citizens."
Jacobs added. "They will be returning back to their home and school environments. That is why we have a continuum program to follow up with them. We did need community support to continue events like the summit."
The St. Croix Drug Demand Reduction Unity Coalition brings together a community of people working together to reduce drug use and abuse among local youth, within families and in communities as a whole. The Unity Coalition was launched in 2000 to become a surrogate community of committed partners that includes local business owners, faith leaders, civic organizations and government agencies.
The objectives of the weekend were to foster resiliency in teens and to help them develop protective skills to reduce substance abuse among young people and influence behaviors within their families. To learn more or to offer support, call Annette Jacobs at 719-9900.
Other activities sponsored by the St. Croix Drug Demand Reduction Unity Coalition include Night Out Against Crime and the Red Ribbon Bazaar.
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